Camberwell resident Bridget Bell is the driving force behind a local campaign to reduce air noise and pollution over Camberwell and South London. Bridget, of John Ruskin Street, first had her sleep disturbed by aircraft over her house in July. Since then they have woken her up “nearly every night”.
Here she tells us about what it is like living directly under a flight path and the impact it is having on her quality of life.
Bridget (middle) appearing with two neighbours in Southwark News
It began in July 2016 when I noticed an unusual number of planes flying over my house, almost without a break and starting as early as 4.30am. Near neighbours had noticed something similar but were affected differently due to the layout of their houses and the angle of the flight path. And, of course, some people are oblivious.
I have lived at the same address for 30 years and had you told me that Oval is one of the most densely overflown areas in London I would have looked at you blankly. Bar the odd helicopter and the very rare commercial plane that I imagined had gone off course or was on an emergency route I was not aware of planes, full stop.
Can cause the air to boil with plane turbulence and noise
This new regime of planes flying over me happened occasionally to begin with but really kicked into action at the start of September 2016. Since then there has been no break apart from the odd series of days when there is an easterly wind and planes approach Heathrow from the west. The disturbance is compounded by City Airport planes using a dedicated route, slightly wide of my house (think noise ghetto) that was instigated, without local consultation, sometime last year and can cause the air to boil with plane turbulence and noise as City and Heathrow flight arrivals whine through the narrow airspace low overhead.
A visual representation of aircraft movement linked to Heathrow
My approaches to the Heathrow Community Noise Forum and to CAA have returned essentially the same response: nothing has changed in flight heights, numbers, timings, approach i.e. that I, the resident, am mistaken. My MP Harriet Harman has been in touch with the Department for Aviation; Caroline Pidgeon, Lib Dem member on the London Assembly, and John Stewart, Chair of HACAN, have also made approaches to Heathrow. They, too, have been told 'nothing has changed'. But I, and many others in SE5, know that something has. I also know that none of the Heathrow or Governmental decision makers has been anywhere near SE5 to experience the situation as it is on the ground.
I dread going to bed
Am I affected? Undoubtedly. The impact on my quality of life has been enormous. My sleep is disturbed; being awake from 4.30am, morning after morning, results in my getting up at 7am (when I would normally be woken by my alarm), feeling disorientated, losing my sense of balance, walking into furniture and failing to think clearly. I find myself tearful at work and with friends through sheer exhaustation. If I can, I go to bed early in order to get in the hours of sleep necessary to function well, that is if I am so tired that I am not disturbed by the flights continuing up to 11.30pm. I often feel physically sick. I wake in the night and weep, deeply depressed at finding myself relentlessly assaulted by the noise of planes, often hearing them so close that they might almost be coming in to my bedroom. I dread going to bed. I sometimes dread leaving work, knowing that my haven of a home is now just an unquiet scenario of ceaseless plane activity.
There are moments when I almost lose the will to live, stop making plans to see friends or visit museums - all the sorts of things that I have enjoyed as a London resident. It is the support of family, friends and colleagues that keeps me going as well as the quiet outrage I feel at being told that 'nothing has changed', that noise is 'not a problem in SE5', that because I am outside an arbitrarily-decided 'noise contour' I am not eligible for a monitor to measure plane noise and activity, quite apart being treated inhumanely and patronisingly by a small number of people who know the truth but find it inconvenient to acknowledge and do anything about.
Five hours' sleep combined with the endless whine of planes between 4.30am until 11.30pm is sheer hell.
If you want to find out more about the campaign, or are affected by similar issues faced by Bridget, click here.